It is the Baltic cruise that took us to Tallinn, Estonia in the Baltic region of northern Europe located between the countries of Latvia and Russia. Surfing on the internet before the trip we have known a few things about the country which has been under foreign domination for most of its colourful history regaining its independence in 1991 after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Now a democratic parliamentary republic of 1.3 million inhabitants with a developed and advanced economy based on technology Estonia is the country where Skype, Kazaa and Hotmail were born. The Skype software was created by Estonian-based developers Ahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu and Jaan Tallinn the same developers that have started the Kazaa, the peer-to-peer-sharing computer software that uses the Fastrack protocol. Estonian coders helped develop the code for Hotmail.
No wonder, this small country of 45,227 sq. kms. is described and well-known as one of the most wired countries globally. In 2007 it became the first country to allow on-line voting in a general election. Its citizens can pay for parking spaces with their mobile phones. In 1994 it was the first country to implement the so-called flat income tax reform. Since 2009 Estonians have access to nationwide electronic health record system. All Estonian schools are connected to the internet.
Tallinn (means Danish town) is the capital and largest city of Estonia. A well-preserved medieval city, Tallinn is a beautiful combination of the Upper Town on the high limestone hill overlooking the Gulf of Finland and the Lower Town at its foot.
Its historic centre at the heart of the city is the Old Town, also known as Toompea, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. Through the Pikk Jalg gate tower we entered Toompea and soon reached the Castle Square (Lossi plats) which is dominated by the spectacular Russian Orthodox Church, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral dating from 1900 with its onion-shaped cupolas and gilded icons. We continued walking along medieval cobbled streets to the famous 13th century Gothic dome Lutheran church, the atmospheric Toomkirik, also known as St. Mary’s Cathedral, Estonia’s oldest church which contains magnificently carved tombstones and a Baroque altar.
On the same square stands the Tall Hermann Tower (Pikk Hermann), a defensive tower built in 1371. Atop the tower can be seen the blue black and white national flag as symbol of Estonian independence. Situated next to the tower is Toompea Castle which houses the Estonian unicameral Parliament, the “Riigikogu”.
From the viewing platform on the Toompea Hill we enjoyed an excellent panoramic view of the Lower Town with its towers and steeples rising above the cluster of red-tiled roofs.
Our walking tour continued to the Lower Town – a web of narrow 13th century cobbled streets and arches and pastel-coloured houses. We entered the Town Hall Square where two most outstanding buildings are: the Town Council’s Apothecary and the Town Hall. At the square can be seen merchants’ houses dating from the 15th century and some splendid guildhalls. To the east is the grandiose Kadriorg Palace built by Peter the Great in 1718 for his wife Catherine. The palace houses the national collection of European art.
Also in the Lower Town are numerous bars and restaurants where you can order one of the popular delicacies of Estonia, the grilled marinated bear. (Bear meat is legal in this country.)
The last leg of our tour brought us to the western edge of Tallinn, the Rocca al Mare Open Air Museum that will let you travel back in time to the rual Estonia of old where a 19th century village life is recreated with its old wooden farmhouses, fishermens’ houses, a wooden village church and school, and windmills.
We wound up the day watching folk dance and music performances by colourful local male and female dancers followed by coffee/tea and barley bread. In January, 2015, from Tallinn we’ll cross the Gulf of Finland to explore Helsinki.
TRIVIA: The Estonian language is ranked as one of the toughest European languages to learn.